June 11, 2019
WHICH is worse — using P5 million for Marawi housing to send war evacuees to the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, or misallocating tens of billions of pesos for expenditures not even in the budget, including pork barrel for senators and congressmen?
For the Commission on Audit (CoA), P5 million seems far more deserving of speedy commentary than some P159 billion in funds that the Supreme Court itself found to have been “allocated to PAPs (programs and projects) not found in any of the relevant GAAs (General Appropriations Acts), the national budget.
CoA was quick to take exception when the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) provided P5 million to the Commission on Muslim Filipinos for evacuees traveling to Mecca last year.
Yet state auditors led by appointees of past President Benigno Aquino 3rd were mum for years about his illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which violated the Constitution and budget laws by juggling state funds and allocating huge sums to expenditures never appropriated by Congress, as required by law.
In fact, then Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales had excused her own long-delayed DAP investigation by citing CoA’s tardiness in sending its report on the unprecedented misallocation, surely the largest malversation ever in the Philippines.
If CoA, chaired by Aquino appointees Grace Pulido Tan (2011-2015) and Michael Aguinaldo (since 2015) has not denounced DAP, especially after the 2014 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions on the illegal program, then it practices partisan double standard, if not hypocrisy, in citing relatively minuscule alleged misallocations like the HUDCC funding for Marawi war victims to go on the Hajj pilgrimage.
Hitting P5M, missing P158B
Just consider what Aquino and his Budget Secretary Florencio Abad did with DAP, for which Aquino appointees Tan, Aguinaldo and past ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales did little to hold him accountable.
The 2014 unanimous Supreme Court — voting 13-0 with one abstention — declared the funds-juggling program unconstitutional “for being in violation of Section 25(5), Article VI of the 1987 Constitution and the doctrine of separation of powers.” The cited provision governs the use of savings of a branch of government or the independent constitutional bodies to augment budgeted items within their respective offices.
DAP broke the fundamental law in three ways. It wrongly declared savings “prior to the end of the fiscal year and without complying with the statutory definition of savings contained in the General Appropriations Acts.”
Then-President Aquino and Secretary Abad also broke the law by “cross-border transfers of the savings of the Executive to augment the appropriations of other offices outside the Executive.” The illegal transfers included P143.7 million for CoA’s computer system and additional litigation experts, and P250 million for the library and archives of Congress.
But the biggest DAP violation found by the Supreme Court was “the funding of projects, activities and programs that were not covered by any appropriation in the General Appropriations Act.” The justices declared: “Upon careful review of the documents contained in the seven evidence packets, we conclude that the ‘savings’ pooled under the DAP were allocated to PAPs that were not covered by any appropriations in the pertinent GAAs.”
Among dubious expenditures listed by anti-DAP petitioners were: P30 billion in equity infusion for the Bangko Sentral, nearly P14 billion in various construction projects, P10 billion for the National Housing Authority to move families out of hazard zones, P8.5 billion for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s “comprehensive peace and development program,” P6.5 billion to augment internal revenue allotments of local government units, and P5.4 billion for the Department of Agrarian Reform to compensate landowners.
Funds also allegedly went to former rebels: P1.5 billion for the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army; and P1.8 billion for the Moro National Liberation Front.
Now, if any government person spends, say, P500, let alone P5 million, on something not covered by any budget or GAA, come audit time, he will quickly learn the meaning of the word “malversation,” the spending of public funds in a manner not authorized by the budget. That includes, of course, expenditures not in any GAA, as the high court found with DAP — unless CoA turns a blind eye.
That may have happened with DAP. The first time the scandal broke in 2013, the late Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago asked then CoA chairman Tan for its DAP report, which the latter promised to send.
Fast-forward five years. Last July outgoing Ombudsman Morales declared, amid criticism that she delayed filing charges over the DAP scandal: “If there was any delay, it had to do with our expectation from CoA on their audit reports.”
Morales told media that CoA Chairman Aguinaldo only passed the audit report in 2018, two years after charges were filed against Aquino and Abad at the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB), and three years later after CoA got relevant DAP documents.
“Those papers which were not passed upon by us were forwarded to the CoA in 2015.” Morales recounted. “Despite follow-ups, we never got word until after the CoA chair came here [to OMB] and [I] reminded him verbally about it. Finally, I think they sent it sometime this year , so that was about two years pending audit investigation by CoA.”
So, with the Duterte administration, CoA has made headlines, especially in pro-Aquino media, criticizing agency spending and even non-spending, like its recent note that P37 million in Marawi aid funds was mostly unspent.
But with the biggest illegal spending in government history, the Aquino-Abad DAP, it took four years after the Supreme Court declared the scheme unconstitutional before CoA’s report came out, which, besides being late, also seems missing from its website.
For sure, other parties are guilty of double standard, like Senators Franklin Drilon and Francis Pangilinan. But these Liberal Party stalwarts are expected to be partisan, lambasting the administration while defending the past LP-led regime.
Not so CoA. If it hits HUDCC over P5 million, it should go ballistic over Aquino, Abad and their P150-billion DAP.
But it won’t.
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